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Israel: the new South Africa? Awatef Shiekh reports on an increasingly two-tier system of legislation, orchestrated by Tel Aviv.

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THE ISRAELI ELECTIONS IN 2009 Resulted in an incoming ultra-right-wing government, which set the country on a new path.

Israel's image became more openly arrogant, aggressive and racist. The new government, deemed the "most racist Knesset in Israeli history" by civil rights groups in Israel, has since introduced bills, almost one a week, targeting its Palestinians citizens and stripping from them ever more of their human rights, along racial and national lines while granting additional rights to all those of Jewish heritage, Israeli citizens and noncitizens alike, in an attempt to promote not only the Jewish, but the Zionist, nature of the state.

Many human and civil rights organisations have accused the government of fast tracking Israel towards apartheid. The truth is that Israel has long been exercising apartheid--the only new development is that this government is taking a more unabashedly and blatant approach to what has been the reality since the inception of the state of Israel in 1948, causing many political corn mentators to dub it 'the new South Africa'.

Netanyahu's government set a new record in 2009 for the number of bills discriminating against Palestinian citizens introduced to the Knesset--some 21, according to Mossawa, the Haifa based Advocacy Centre for Arab Citizens in Israel, representing a 75% increase on the previous year. In 2010 the trend of introducing racist and draconian bills continued, many bringing strong international criticism of the government. Such bills influenced some international artists to cancel engagements in Israel in protest, including the highly respected British film director, Mike Leigh. Coupled with its brutal military own goals in Gaza and on the Freedom Flotilla, this one-time 'light unto the nations' has rapidly become a rogue state.

The dogmatically racist bills were submitted to the Knesset by parties primarily from the coalition. One bill, submitted in June 2009 by Member of the Knesset (MK)

David Azoulay from Shas, an ultra-orthodox religious party, seeks to give the Minister of the Interior the authority to revoke the citizenship without appealing to the Attorney General. The Acting Interior Minister, Eli Yishai--also a member of the Shas party has announced that if the bill is successful he will immediately revoke the citizenship of 35 Palestinian citizens, including former MK Dr Azmi Bishara.

Admission problems

Another bill, submitted by MK Zevulun Orlev from the right-wing Jewish Home party, seeks to criminalise public denials of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, an act to be punishable by up to a year in prison.

Yet another bill on the frankly absurd list was submitted by Yisrael Beiteinu's MK David Rotem in May 2009. This bill advocates making mandatory the taking of a loyalty oath for any person requesting Israeli citizenship. The loyalty oath states that "those seeking citizenship will be required to declare commitment to be loyal to the state of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state, to its symbols and its values and to serve the state as required in military service or an alternative service."

In Israel, apart from very few mixed cities, Palestinian citizens and their Jewish counterparts live in separate communities. Since 1948, the state of Israel has established about 600 Jewish municipalities--in contrast, not a single Palestinian locality has been established in that time. Moreover, there are admission committees in about 700 agricultural and community towns. Israel's six decades of institutional separation wasn't enough and a Committee Admission bill was submitted with the support of the Kadima party to ingrain this practice into law.

Under the new law, the admission committees of these towns can reject an applicant based on criteria such as the applicant's suitability to the "social life in the community" or whether they fit into the "social, cultural fabric" of the town. The committee will include representatives from the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organisation, both quasi-governmental organisations. These admission committees operate to filter out applications from Palestinian citizens on the basis of their "social unsuitability". The bill was intended to bypass a Supreme Court decision from 2000, based on the appeal made by the Qa'dan family, who were refused a home site in Katzir, a town in central Israel. The Supreme Court ruled that the Jewish Agency's policy of excluding Palestinian citizens from state land constituted discrimination on the basis of nationality.

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Sponsors of the bill, MKs Israel Hasson and Shai Hermesh of Kadima and David Rotem, the chairman of the Knesset Constitution Committee (Yisrael Beitein), told Israel's Haaretz newspaper: "The bill reflects the Knesset's commitment to work to preserve the ability to realise the Zionist dream in practice in the State of Israel." Evidently there is little room for Palestinians in that particular dream.

New bills

These are just a few of the many racist and anti-democratic bills poised to pass into Israeli legislation. If successful with them, the current Israeli government will, in less than two short years, have explicitly embodied into law what has been in practice since 1948. What we are witnessing is the demolition of a facade of democracy.

In reality, Palestinian citizens were discriminated against in all areas of public life since the early years of the young state, decades before Netanyahu's government flooded the Knesset with racist bills.

The 2010 report from Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority rights in Israel, identified over 30 laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in terms of citizenship issues, the right to political participation, land and housing rights, educational, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and during detention on security charges. The majority of these laws were designed, submitted and enacted by Labour or while Labour was in government, many in the early years of the state.

If we look at the Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952), both are fundamentally discriminatory and serve to bolster the Jewish nature of the state--and both were enacted by a Labour government. These two laws allow Jews to immigrate freely to Israel from any part of the world and to gain citizenship, but exclude Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes between 1947-52, denying them any internationally recognised legal rights.

In 2003, the government in Tel Aviv enacted the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, publicly known as the 'family unification law'. This law denies the right to Israeli residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even if they are married to citizens of Israel (Jewish or Arab).

Since 1948, the state of Israel has passed a series of laws that allowed it to systematically confiscate and transfer Palestinian-owned land to the state and its quasi-governmental organisations such as the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. These organisations by their own charters cater only to Jews.

Today, Palestinian citizens, who constitute a fifth of Israel's population, own only 3-3.5% of the land, compared to 48% under Palestinian ownership in 1948. This massive land confiscation and its transfer to Zionist organisations was executed through two laws from the early 1950s--the Land Acquisition Law (1953) and The Absentee Property Law (1950), both enacted by a Labour government.

Palestinian citizens continue to suffer from structural poverty that is the result of a system of discriminations and exclusion. According to the Israeli National Insurance Institute--a governmental body--figures from 2009 show that 53.5% of all Palestinian families in Israel were classified as poor, compared with a national average of 20.5%. An OECD report entitled Labour Market and Socio-Economic Outcomes of the Arab Israeli Population indicates that the net monthly income of Palestinian citizens' households is just 63% of the net monthly income of a Jewish household. The state is the largest employer in Israel, and while Palestinian citizens comprise 20% of the population, in 2006 only 5.92% were employed in the civil service--despite the amendment made in 2000 to the Civil Service Law (1959) stipulating fair representation.

Military service

A popular method of discriminating against Palestinian citizens is to condition eligibility for a range of public benefits on the performance of military service. This immediately excludes most Palestinian citizens as the majority of them are exempt from performing military service.

This policy has been adopted by private businesses, many of which demand proof of military service as a precondition for employment, even if the vacancy is working at a fast-food chain, a restaurant or a shoe shop. Sticking the boot in aside, one wonders how military service better equips anyone to sell shoes.

However, perhaps what the recent spate of bills most starkly reveals is how unrefined the current government is, compared with the polished subterfuge of the seemingly 'liberal' and 'leftist' Labour governments that, more discreetly, established the foundations of the current reality of disparity between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. In Israel it's not about the racism--that is endemic. But rather, like a successful joke, it's all about the delivery.
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Title Annotation:Current affairs: ISRAEL
Author:Shiekh, Awatef
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Feb 1, 2011
Words:1483
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